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Hoffmann, David Ẓevi


HOFFMANN, DAVID ẒEVI (1843–1921), rabbi and biblical and talmudic scholar. Hoffmann was born in Verbo (Slovakia) and studied at Hungarian yeshivot, as well as at the *Hildesheimer Seminary in Eisenstadt. He later studied in the universities of Vienna, Berlin, and Tuebingen. In 1873, when Hildesheimer established his Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin, he invited Hoffman to lecture on the Talmud and the posekim, and later also on the Pentateuch. After Hildesheimer's death in 1899, Hoffmann was appointed rector of the Seminary. He was member and later chairman of the bet din of the Adass Yisroel congregation in Berlin. Toward the end of his life he was regarded as the supreme halakhic authority of German Orthodox Jewry and was inundated by questions in halakhah from most of the German rabbis. In 1918, on his 75th birthday, he was awarded the title professor by the German government. Hoffmann was reserved by nature, but nevertheless he taught publicly and voiced his opinion on public matters. He was a member of the executive of Agudat Israel, but at the same time spoke on behalf of Zionism, although fearing the reaction of extremists he hesitated to publish his opinions.

His responsa, collected in the three volumes of Melammedle-Ho'il, are distinguished by a concern with contemporary conditions, and a tendency to leniency, wherever possible, in matters of halakhah, though he was a violent opponent of reform. Hoffman always based his lenient stance on firm halakhic ground, using such concepts as an emergency situation (sha'at ha-deḥak), potential financial loss, custom, and the prevention of a desecration of God's name. However, he knew how to be strict as well, prohibiting smoking in the synagogue and maintaining the Torah prohibition against a kohen having physical contact with a corpse. His responsa reflect the challenges of Jewish life in the late 19th century. Hoffmann dealt with such issues as being hospitalized in a non-Jewish hospital where only non-kosher food is served; taking prescription medicine that contains blood; and taking an oath before a gentile court with an uncovered head. Faced with the choice between maintaining the strict Halakhah or keeping Jews within the fold, Hoffmann chose the latter course of action.

In several of his works as, for example, in his apologetic book on the Shulḥan Arukh, he directed a polemic against antisemites – non-Jews and apostates – who criticized halakhic law. His biblical investigations, too, were directed against biblical criticism. These writings, which occupied him for many years, were viewed by Hoffmann as "a holy undertaking… an obligatory battle to answer decisively these new critics who come as oppressors to violate the holy Torah." In his work opposing Wellhausen, Hoffmann rejected the theories of "sources," but he did not formulate an original method of biblical investigation, relying on the basic assumption of "Torah from heaven." In his commentaries to Leviticus and Deuteronomy he relied on rabbinic homiletical and exegetical interpretations for an understanding of these books, as well as offering his own innovative ideas, often based on comparisons between biblical Hebrew and other Semitic languages. While his approach to biblical investigation was essentially the result of the conditions of his time and place, they have stood the test of time and are still studied.

On the other hand, Hoffmann advocated talmudic criticism as long as it does not negate the halakhah, and this aroused the anger of several rabbis, among them S.R. *Hirsch. Hoffman was the first among German Orthodox Jews who investigated and interpreted the Talmud by means of a critical method in German. Most of his talmudic studies, written in German, deal with tannaitic literature. In his investigation of the *Mishnah he concluded that there existed a "First Mishnah," which was edited before the destruction of the Second Temple, and on which later tannaim were divided in their opinions. In his investigation of halakhic Midrashim, which is his most important work, he established the relation of different anonymous beraitot in halakhic Midrashim to two different schools, and formulated a system of dividing all halakhic Midrashim into two types: those originating in the school of R. Ishmael and those of the school of R. Akiva. He thus explained the differences in various Midrashim in terminology, in the names of tannaim mentioned, and in methods of interpretation. Though some later scholars strongly questioned his conclusions (see Ch. *Albeck), it is to Hoffmann's credit that he was the first to discuss the problem in all its manifestations, that he recognized the existence of the division of Midrashim and described the evidence of this division, and that he laid the foundation for further research on the tannaitic Midrashim. Hoffmann even attempted – especially by way of selections from the Midrash ha-Gadol – to reconstruct halakhic Midrashim which had been lost (*Mekhilta de-R. Simeon b. Yoḥai and Midrash Tanna'im). It was proven, however, from manuscripts discovered later, that his method was not always sufficiently scientifically based. In 1876–93 Hoffmann edited, together with A. *Berliner, the Magazin fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums, and in 1884–95 he edited the monthly Israelitische Monatsschrift. Hoffmann's area of interest and knowledge was comprehensive and also included Semitic and classical philology and even mathematics. He was a prolific and diligent scholar. In addition to his great works he wrote hundreds of articles which made a significant contribution to the development of the philological research into the Talmud. A Festschrift was published in his honor on the occasion of his 70th birthday, which opens with a bibliography of his writings compiled by L. Fischer (Festschrift zum… Hoffmann's, 1914).

Despite his greatness, Hoffmann was humble and modest. His outstanding qualities were manifest both in the scientific world and public life, and in his private life. Those who knew him considered him as one of the spiritual heirs and successors of the *Ḥasidei Ashkenaz.

His major books are Mar Samuel (1873); Die erste Mischna und die Controversen der Tannaim (1882, 19132; Heb. Ha-Mishnah ha-Rishonah u-Felugta de-Tanna'ei, 1914); Der Schulchan-Aruch und die Rabbinen ueber das Verhaeltniss der Juden zu Andersglaeubigen (1885, expanded 18952); Zur Einleitung in die halachischen Midraschim (1887; Heb. Le-Ḥeker Midreshei ha-Tanna'im, 1928); Die Mischna-Ordnung Nisikin uebersetzt und erklaert mit Einleitung (1893–97, 18992); Die wichtigsten Instanzen gegen die Graf-Wellhausensche Hypothese (2 vols., 1903/1916); Die Mechilta des R. Simon b. Jochai (1905); Das Buch Leviticus uebersetzt und erklaert (2 vols., 1905/06); Midrash Tannaim zum Deuteronomium (2 vols., 1900/09); Midrasch ha-gadol zum Buche Exodus (2 vols., up to "Jethro," 1914/21); Das Buch Deuteronomium uebersetzt und erklaert (2 vols., 1913/22; Melammed Leho'il (responsa, 3 vols., 1926–32).


Wohlgemuth, in: Jeschurun, 9 (1922), 1; L. Ginzberg, Students, Scholars and Saints (1928), 252–62; A. Marx, Studies in Jewish History and Booklore (1934), 369–76; idem, Essays in Jewish Biography (1947), 185–222, 296–7; Y. Wolfsberg, in: Sinai, 14 (1944), 74ff.; idem, in: L. Jung (ed.), Guardians of Our Heritage (1958), index; idem, Deyokna'ot (1962), 40ff. add. bibliography: D.H. Gordis, in: Modern Judaism, 10:1 (1990), 85–103; R. Levine, in: Journal of Reform Judaism, 30:1 (1983), 49–56; M. Shapiro, in: Torah U-Madda Journal, 6 (1995–96), 129–37; idem, in: Tradition, 33:3 (1999), 88–93; D.H. Ellenson, in: huca, 53 (1983), 357–80; J.M. Brown, in: Modern Challenge to Halakha (1969), 1–38; Y. Markowitz, Rabbi David Zvi Hoffmann ve-Hashkafato (1978).

[Moshe David Herr /

David Derovan (2nd ed.)]

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